pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Drawing Near

Reading: Mark 1: 9-15

Verse 15: “The time has come. The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news”!

Mark’s gospel quickly moves to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee. The prophecies and birth of John the Baptist and Jesus gets zero verses in Mark’s story. John the Baptist’s whole ministry gets seven verses. Jesus’ baptism gets three and his time being tempted in the wilderness gets two. John’s imprisonment and the start of Jesus’ ministry gets two verses combined. Mark moves quickly through these events. Mark’s compact gospel gives key quotes that often pack a punch. Verse 15 is one of those verses. These are the first words spoken by Jesus in Mark’s gospel.

Jesus begins by stating, “The time has come. The kingdom of God is near”. It is time to begin public ministry. This ministry will involve the kingdom of God, incarnate in the person of Jesus, coming near to people. It will come near enough to touch people and to speak with people, to eat with people and to bless their lives. It will come near enough to enter into relationship with people. Jesus continues by saying, “Repent and believe the good news”! In another translation this reads, “Change your heart and lives” (CEB). This is closer to the original text. The word translated ‘repent’ implied expanding one’s mind to a new reality. Jesus engaged and lived in a whole new way, more fully expressing God’s love for each of us, his children. To engage the world as Jesus did, to love others as Jesus did – this requires a new way to see the world and to understand our purpose in it. This mind shift will lead to us living a radical, selfless life that stands out, that draws questions.

To become like Christ in mind and heart, in words and actions, will lead to opportunities to bring the kingdom near and to share our belief in the good news. Not blending in but living a holy and compassionate life will draw others into conversation, giving us the opportunity to share the good news of Jesus Christ. In this way we will partner with Jesus and the Holy Spirit, drawing the love of God into other’s lives. As we seek to be the kingdom here on earth, we too will be changed. God’s blessings on the journey.

Prayer: Loving God, help me to live a life of faith that is noticable, that is radical. May my witness draw others in so that I have the opportunity to share the good news of Jesus Christ with others. Amen.


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Drawing Near

Photo credit: Soul duvOcean

Reading: Mark 1: 14-15

Verse 15: “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news”.

Jesus steps into his ministry as the one who prepared the way has been arrested. John the Baptist has been imprisoned by Herod. John spoke truth against the power of the day and it would cost him his life. Jesus travels to Galilee to begin his ministry. This region to the north was isolated, away from the power structures of the day, home to many in need of the good news. As he begins his ministry Jesus announces, “The time has come”. John had prepared the people for this very moment.

Jesus continues with the message that John had preached. It is one of the constant messages of the entire Bible. The practice of repentance always remains central to the walk of faith. In verse fifteen Jesus says, “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news”. In Jesus, God draws near to us. This is what draws us to him, it is what drew the first disciples into following Jesus. In our lives today we have moments when this is especially true. These are the times when we can tangibly feel God’s presence with us. To have any relationship, change is necessary. It is true of our relationship with Jesus. This relationship begins in a place of humility, in the place where we recognize our need for a Savior. Sensing that we are entering a holy space, stepping into the presence of the Messiah, we are naturally led to repentance. Entering that space we feel that we need to be our best. Part of that involves laying aside our imperfections, our sins, our selfishness. Looking within, we see that which separates us from the one we want to draw near to. Repenting of these we draw nearer to the kingdom of God. It is in our moments of closeness to Jesus that we come to belief as we surrender our lives to him. As we continue to draw near we experience grace and mercy and forgiveness as we are made new over and over. We experience freedom from the things of this world as our focus and love shifts toward the eternal. We come to live out the joy and hope and peace that grows from belief and trust in Jesus. We come to see Jesus as the “good news”, as the way, the truth, and the life, as the one who gives us the final victory over sin and death.

This day may we spend time in his very presence, allowing the good news to permeate our very being. May the kingdom of God draw near to you this day!

Prayer: Loving God, you draw near to me in so many ways – in these quiet moments, in the interactions with others, in the ordinary of life. In love you fill me with a peace and hope and joy that nothing in the world can give. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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Encourage One Another

Reading: 1st Thessalonians 4: 13-18

Verses 17 and 18: “We will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words”.

In yesterday’s reading of 1st Thessalonians we looked at the hope and promise that we find in Jesus Christ’s victory over death. Those who claim a saving faith in Jesus will one day receive the gift of eternity in his presence. We are also reminded that one day Christ will return, making all things new. The trials and sufferings, the wars and violence, the injustice and oppression, the barriers and obstacles… – they will be no more. It is a glorious and beautiful new world to ponder.

Paul reminds us that Jesus will return, coming down from heaven with angels and trumpet blasts. It will be an unmistakable event. All will know that Christ is returning. All will know what is happening. First, the “dead in Christ” will arise to join him. Then those that “are still alive” will be “caught up in the clouds” to join Christ. But this will not be all people. Some will know that this day signals the beginning of a horrible eternity. It will not be a joyous day for all of humanity. For those who believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, though, it will be as Paul writes: “We will be with the Lord forever”.

Paul also adds, “Therefore encourage each other with these words”. Encourage others to claim a saving faith through Jesus Christ. Encourage others to know Jesus as Lord and Savior. Make disciples of all peoples for the transformation of the world. The transformation is two-fold. The first transformation occurs here, in each of us, now. As followers of Jesus, we live differently. We live a Christlike life in the here and now, bringing healing and wholeness to this broken and hurting world. We do so to begin a transformation in others. The second transformation will come when Christ returns. All will be made new. As people of love and hope, we should want as many people as possible to rejoice at the second coming of the Lord. Therefore, may we encourage one another, drawing others into the saving light and love of Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, may your light and love within me speak to the world of the hope and promise that I have in you. May what I have be contagious and attractive to those without a saving relationship. Amen.


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Merciful God

Reading: Romans 11: 1-2a and 29-32

Verse 1: “I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means”!

At times the news can be so hard to listen to. In this pandemic time we have all had moments or days or even weeks when the news of rising death tolls and of new spreading of COVID has left us empty, downcast, anxious. We, like many, have sometimes questioned where God is in the midst of all this. Has God finally rejected humanity? Paul asks this type of question.

Paul has just finished lamenting Israel’s unbelief. While some Jews have accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior, the vast majority have not. What had been a very tight circle that included just one nation has been opened wide as Christianity has spread to the edges of the known world. The Gentiles and potentially the whole world has been grafted into God’s family. It feels as if almost all of Israel is now on the outside looking in instead of being the only ones inside. Paul turns to this question: “Did God reject his people”? In essence, has God moved on?

God has fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah. Jesus Christ was born, lived among the Jews, taught of God’s love. He was crucified and buried. Jesus was resurrected. Right before their eyes the Messiah, the incarnate God, came, lived, and returned to the Father. Paul hypothetically wonders if the Jews have missed out. His response to the question is very decisive: “By no means”! God remains the God of Israel. And God is the God of a much larger family too.

Paul goes on that the rejection of Jesus is just one more season of disobedience. As God has always done, God will continue to be faithful, seeking ways to be merciful anyway. This too is our experience with God. On a regular basis we reject God, we are disobedient. Yet God still loves us. God still seeks to be merciful, to draw us back into relationship. God ever desires to wash us clean with his mercy. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Supremely loving and merciful God, thank you for your love and mercy. How do I say more? Thank you, thank you, thank you. Amen.


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The Model He Set

Reading: 1 Peter 3: 13-22

Verse 14: “But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed”.

I believe that each of us are created in the image of God and that all people are woven together by the Creator. Because of this, I believe we each have a spark or a piece of the divine within us. If you watch young children you can see this. There is a pure love in children that reveals the divine within. It shows in the inherent kindness that children naturally display. This piece of God within each of us also allows us to know right and wrong. To take from another, for example, feels wrong. To hurt another makes us feel bad. To exclude someone runs against our innate need to belong. This inner sense of good and love draws us to God as we mature and seek meaning and purpose in life. For some, though, this sense of good and the spark is pushed down, suppressed, stamped out. Hatred and prejudice and other negative emotions and beliefs must be taught. They are not natural to how we were created. Elevating self is also a means to suppress the spark within. Sometimes the suppression is the byproduct of the home or social environment and conditions – all things that can harden or deaden the heart.

As Christians our sense of good and of his goodness is elevated. Our inherent sense of right and wrong is enhanced and grows the more we walk with Christ. This sense was evident in Jesus and is strewn throughout the example that he set for us. Above all else Jesus loved. He allowed this to be his core characteristic. At times this got him into “trouble”, into times of suffering. When he allowed love to lead and healed on the Sabbath, he felt the scorn and the ire of the religious leaders. When he healed the possessed man, sending the legion of demons into the pigs, he felt sting of rejection as he was asked to move along. These are but two of many examples of times when Jesus Christ suffered because he chose to do good and what was right and loving. In our passage today, Peter encourages us to be like Christ. Even to be like him in his suffering. In verse fourteen we read, “But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed”. Even if we suffer, rejoice in doing what is right and good and loving. Even if it means some are angry with you. Even if it means some reject you. Even if it means you are asked to move along.

In each of our communities and in some of our churches we can find ills. Poverty, wage inequality, uneven access to education and health care, food deserts, prejudice, bias, poor living conditions, homelessness… Walls, judging, hypocrisy, unwritten rules that exclude… Each of these and more should prick the heart of Jesus Christ within each of his followers. Our sense of good and our desire to love should cry out and cause us to stand up for those without voice, for those without power, for those without standing. Even though we may suffer. Even though.

Even though we may suffer in the name of love, we will be blessed for living out Jesus’ love. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, it hurts sometimes to do what is right, to stand against what is wrong. Sometimes there is a cost, a time we suffer. Keep me tuned to your Spirit, to your heart of love. There there is no fear. Use me as you will, even when I suffer. To you, O God, be the glory. Amen.


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Children of Light

Reading: Ephesians 5: 8-14

Verses 8 and 10: “Live as children of the light… and find out what pleases the Lord”.

Paul speaks to us today about light and darkness. The passage begins by reminding us that we were once in darkness. There was a time for all of us when we did not know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. But once we made the good confession, we became children of the light. We may stray into darkness once in a while, but the light reminds us of where we’ve wandered and through the power of the Holy Spirit we are drawn back to the light. Paul encourages us today to “live as children of the light… and find out what pleases the Lord”. As Christians, this should just be our norm.

How do we know what pleases the Lord? The Bible is full of advice! It is mostly found in the gospels, in the life of Jesus. We please God when our love for him and for the other is greater than our love for self. In Jesus’ life and teachings that boiled down to loving the poor and the marginalized, to caring for the sick and the sinful, to being obedient to the Father, and to offering acts of reconciliation and forgiveness to those we have harmed and to those who have harmed us. Some, maybe even many, of these things are challenging. It is a narrow road. Nonetheless, living a life of service to God and to others is what pleases God.

Even in this day and season of fear and social distancing we are still called to be “children of the light”. We have many ways to safely love our neighbors. We have lots of time to study the gospels to deepen our faith and our understanding of our call as disciples. In all we do and say, may we continue to be a fruitful offering to God. May we all be pleasing in his sight.

Prayer: Loving God, thank you for opening my eyes and heart. Please continue to lead and guide us to be people of light. Keep us safe as we engage the world in this scary time. May we be a blessing to others. Amen.


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Drawing In

Reading: John 4: 5-26

Verse 9: “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink”?

The conversation in today’s passage is refreshing. Two people who do not previously know each other have an open and honest conversation. Wouldn’t it be nice if people who know each other could have at least this open and honest of a conversation? Let’s see how that may be possible.

The conversation we read in John 4 is honest and allows space for the other to speak and be heard. The woman is coming to the well alone in the sixth hour, which would be noon for us. All the other women came as a group in the early morning, in the cool of the day. As they came, drew water, and returned to the village they would have talked and caught up with one another. The woman at the well is alone and is isolated in her own community. After Jesus asks her for a drink, she replies, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink”? Jesus is attempting to cross a few barriers here in order to enter into a conversation. She points out both the Jew-Samaritan and the male-female barriers. He continues the conversation, crossing the barrier of isolation. Jesus chooses to engage someone that most others ignore or avoid. In spite of the initial barriers that she tries to put up, Jesus continues to try and connect with her. Jesus offers her the “living water” and she reminds him that Jacob drank from this well and gave it to the Samaritans. The Samaritan connection to Jacob is their claim to equality with the Jews. She is testing Jesus – will he bite and allow the conversation to be derailed? No, he continues to offer her the water that leads to eternal life. You see, the gift of eternal life is much more important than any earthly defined barrier or difference. How can we model this belief in our efforts to share Jesus with others?

In verses sixteen through eighteen Jesus identifies the thing that keeps her on the fringes of society, outside of community. He does name it but there is no judgment, no taking of moral high ground. She falls back into the Jew-Samaritan barrier in verse twenty, but again Jesus persists, opening her eyes to see how God is working to break down worship and religious barriers, revealing a time when all believers will worship together in spirit and truth. Jesus is again leaning into the eternal. The woman at the well is beginning to sense what Jesus offers, connecting to the day when the Messiah will come. The conversation ends for now with Jesus claiming, “I am he”. Drawn in, the woman will soon draw others in.

This is the pattern of discipleship – sharing faith in Jesus with one person at a time. May we practice this model today.

Prayer: Father God, lead me past any barriers my earthly eyes may see at first. Open my heart and mind to the guiding of your Holy Spirit as I seek to share Jesus with others today. Amen.


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Salt and Light

Reading: Matthew 5: 13-16

Verses 13 and 14: “You are the salt of the earth… you are the light of the world”.

In today’s reading we are called to affect our world. Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth… you are the light of the world”. To understand what he means by this, let us look at each term as it applies to faith in the world.

Salt had two main functions in Jesus’ day. The first was to preserve. Salt was liberally applied to meat and fish to extend its useful life. It keep the food safe, preventing it from spoiling. When our faith is sprinkled throughout our life, it helps us to persevere and it keeps our walk ‘good’ – living in a way that is pleasing to God. Salt also flavors that which it touches. It brings out the flavor in foods. Our faith should flavor all we do and say as well as flavoring everyone we encounter. Our good should act to bring out the good in others, making their lives better.

Jesus also calls us to be light. Light illuminates things. Doing so it chases away darkness. Jesus encourages us to allow our faith to be light in the world, not just in our own private way. He says to treat it like a lamp, putting it “on a stand” – up high so that all can be affected by our faith. Faith as a light functions in at least three ways. First, it can be a light that reveals darkness (sin) in our own lives as well as in the lives of others. Second, our faith can be a light that guides our path as we as the path of others. And, third, our faith reveals God in us and can reveal God to others, working so that “they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven”. When our faith is something good that others can see, it draws them in and makes them curious about what we have.

Each day we all have opportunities to be salt and light to the world. Sometimes these opportunities feel minor and sometimes we are challenged by the opportunity that God gives us. We are called to be salt and light. God promises to be with us, to go before us, to be present to us in all things. Accordingly, may we trust the Holy Spirit to lead and guide us, using each of us to do God’s will as salt and light in the world.

Prayer: Father God, may all I do and say flavor and illuminate my walk and the walk of those I meet. Use me to connect others to you. Thank you too God for all who have been salt and light to me on my walk of faith. Praise God that they took the opportunity to walk with me! Amen.


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Acceptable?

Reading: Isaiah 58: 1-5

Verse 2: “They seem eager to know my ways… and seem eager for God to come near them”.

Isaiah 58 starts with a pronouncement from God. In verse one God encourages Isaiah to “shout it aloud. Do not hold back”. Proclaim it from the rooftops! The message is something God wants all the people of Judah to hear. Getting right to the point, God declares the rebellion of the people, laying their sins before them. In verse two we get a hint at the heart of the problem: “They seem eager to know my ways… and seem eager for God to come near them”. In these phrases, the key word is “seem”. On the surface the people of Judah appear to be seeking God. In verse three the people try to defend themselves, asking why God did not notice their fasting. There is a reason.

Yesterday in church we celebrated communion. At our church we offer communion on the first Sunday of each month. In the words before coming forward there was a prayer and a time to lay our sins before the Lord, inviting us to offer repentance along with confession. Everyone in church took communion. Did all take the opportunity to search their hearts and to make a humble and sincere confession of their sins? Did all humbly desire to repent and go forth walking a more holy life? In an ideal world the answers to these questions would be yes and yes! But maybe someone was thinking instead about the Super Bowl snacks that lay ahead or about which commercial would be their favorite. Maybe someone thought they had no sins to confess. If anyone came and took communion in these or similar mindsets, they were practicing a ritual not participating in a sacrament.

The people of Judah were going through the motions of fasting. Yes, they were abstaining from food. But that is as far as their fast went. They were exploiting their workers. They were quarreling and fighting amongst themselves. The ritual of fasting was not changing their sinful ways. Their ritual fasting was not changing their hearts or helping them to be holy. A fast, when celebrated properly, works to draw one closer to God and deeper into walking in God’s ways. Communion should have the same affect. The same can be said of prayer, worship, Bible study, meditation, practicing Sabbath…

Our section for today ends with this question: “Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord”? Tough question. Reflect on yesterday for a minute or two. Would God ask this question of any part of your day set aside for God?

Prayer: Lord God, it is a bit disconcerting to think about when I just go through the motions instead of choosing to be fully present with you or others. Strip away my busyness, my selfishness, my distractions, my half-hearted efforts. Just as you are fully present with me, may I be so to you and to those you place before me today. Amen.


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At Once

Reading: Matthew 4: 18-23

Verse 20: “At once they left their nets and followed him”.

In our passage today, Jesus has begun his public ministry. He calls people to repent. Jesus begins by addressing the sin that he came to ultimately defeat. In our passage today Jesus gives us a great model for ministry. Yes, Jesus probably could have done some ministry by himself. In the moment he could have been successful in teaching obedience to God; he could have brought healing and wholeness to people’s lives; and, he could have drawn people closer to God. But if this were the case he’d have been more like another Elijah or Jeremiah instead of the Messiah. As much good as Jesus did in his three years of ministry, the work he did on the cross and through the grave are what made an eternal difference.

Jesus understood this. He knew that his ministry was not just for this three years and it was not just about what he could do. He saw his role in the bigger picture of God’s plans. In order to have a lasting impact, in order to reorient the human-divine relationship, Jesus knew that the ministry must extend beyond the person of Jesus. So he recruited and trained helpers. Today we hear the call of the first disciples. As he walked along the seashore Jesus calls first Andrew and Peter, then James and John. It is a simple call: “Come, follow me, and I will make you fish for people”. The ask itself is quite simple. No persuasive speech, no miracle to prepare them to say yes. The simple statement is followed by an immediate response. In verse twenty we read, “At once they left their nets and followed him”.

“At once” – no hesitation, no time to think through the pros and the cons. Jesus’ words must have carried some authority, his presence must have been tangible. “They left their nets” – all was set aside, no, all was given up to follow this new rabbi. These four men left their jobs, their families, their everything to follow Jesus. They “followed him” – to where? They did not know where. They did not know to what end. We can be almost positive that these four men knew very little about Jesus or what his invitation meant. Yet, “At once they left their nets and followed him”.

We too have our moments when Jesus says, “Come, follow me”. In fact, we have them over and over. What would our faith and our lives look like – what would our world look like – if we at once left our immediate situation and followed Jesus wherever he led?

Prayer: Prince of Peace, fill me with your peace, so that when your Holy Spirit tries to lead me, I may follow more often. Melt away my excuses with the fire of your love. Help me to more fully live out your love every day. Amen.